"1.5°C is the new 2°C. Zero by 2050, valved by scientific instrumentation, is now in the sausage hopper."
It is wholly appropriate that the 20th UN climate change conference (#COP20) met in the Peruvian army headquarters, known as "El Pentagonito,"
where former Presidente Alberto Fujimori liked to torture and interrogate his political prisoners. Peru is now the world’s fourth most dangerous country for environmental defenders — 57 activists have been assassinated, four in September alone. Assassination is another useful word to describe what is happening to the climate. But the climate conference has its own style of torture, much of it involving sleep deprivation and stress positions.
This COP had just one goal, which was to "finalize" an ambitious international agreement that will be watered down in Paris this time next year. "No Lima, No Paris" was the slogan going in, two weeks ago. Towards the end, after listening to days of hand-wringing speeches recalling the disaster at Copenhagen, the delegates found themselves at impasse.
Going into the final sessions, the draft Decision document tried to express that impasse in positive, if tortured, language.
Draft decision -/CP.20 Further advancing the Durban Platform, Recommendation of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action
…Noting with grave concern the significant gap between the aggregate effect of Parties’ mitigation pledges in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 and aggregate emission pathways consistent with having a likely chance of holding the increase in global average temperature below 2 °C or 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels … [the COP:]
1. Confirms that the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action shall complete the work … as early as possible in order for the Conference of the Parties at its twenty-first session (November- December 2015) to adopt a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties;
2. Decides that the protocol… shall address, inter alia, mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology development and transfer, capacity-building and transparency of action and support in a balanced manner;
3. Urges developed country Parties to provide and mobilize support to developing country Parties for ambitious mitigation and adaptation actions, especially to Parties that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change; and invites other Parties willing to do so to complement such support;
12. Decides that all Parties shall, in the context of their intended nationally determined contributions and in order to facilitate clarity, transparency and understanding, provide information on the reference point (including, as appropriate, a base year), time frames and/or periods for implementation, scope and coverage, planning processes, assumptions and methodological approaches including those for estimating and accounting for anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and, as appropriate, removals, and how the Party considers that its intended nationally determined contribution is fair and ambitious, in light of its national circumstances, and how it contributes towards achieving the objective of the Convention as set out in its Article 2;
16. Encourages all Parties to the Kyoto Protocol to ratify and implement the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol;
17. Decides to accelerate the implementation of decision 1/CP.19, paragraphs 3 and 4, by convening a forum to be held in conjunction with the forty-fourth sessions (May 2016) and the forty-sixth sessions (May 2017) of the subsidiary bodies and invites all Parties to participate in the forum in order to:
(a) Be informed by the status of implementation of the institutional arrangements under the Convention;
(b) Assess the need to mobilize financial resources, technological support and capacity-building support to enable developing country Parties to implement their nationally appropriate mitigation actions;
(c) Review the progress made in the technical examination of good practice policies, technologies, financial arrangements and options to enhance pre-2020 ambition;
(d) Facilitate the coherence of the work of the Convention bodies relevant to the implementation of pre-2020 climate action;
18. Also decides to continue the technical examination of opportunities with high mitigation potential, including those with adaptation, health and sustainable development co-benefits, in the period 2015–2020, by requesting the secretariat to:
(a) Organize a series of in-session technical expert meetings which:
(i) Facilitate Parties in the identification of policy options, practices and technologies and in planning for their implementation in accordance with nationally defined development priorities;
(ii) Build on and utilize the related activities of, and further enhance collaboration and synergies among, the Technology Executive Committee, theClimate Technology Centre and Network, the Durban Forum on capacity-building, the Executive Board of the clean development mechanism and the operating entities of the Financial Mechanism;
(iii) Build on previous technical expert meetings in order to hone and focus on actionable policy options;
(iv) Provide meaningful and regular opportunities for the effective engagement of experts from Parties, relevant international organizations, civil society, indigenous peoples, women, youth, academic institutions, the private sector, and subnational authorities nominated by their respective countries;
(v) Support the accelerated implementation of policy options and enhanced mitigation action, including through international cooperation;
Those were some excerpts from the draft presented for comments at the Saturday morning Plenary after a negotiating session the night before that went until 3.30am. At first it looked a lot like the recent debate in the US Congress over the government shutdown bill — it had enough foul play in it to alienate both rabid Teabaggers and spreadsheet Democrats but in the end it squeaked through, averting another billion-dollar-wasting government furlough. Senator Elizabeth Warren, noting that bankster toadies had written the section repealing essential parts of Dodd-Frank banking reform, observed that just that one corporation, Citibank, is now large enough to hold the whole country for ransom.
The debate over the UN draft coalesced around a similar divide in the political philosophies that have bedeviled the world for the past four or more centuries. At issue was whether to consider the world's entire population, and by extension the whole planet, as a single family.
On one pole are Jeffersonians. These are the people who apparently were given an adequate sense of security as children, with loving family environments and kindly potty training. Jeffersonians think it would be a good idea to try to raise everyone to a level of equal opportunity, even if that means small sacrifices by those of noble birth. In the US, these people voted for Obama, want immigration and medical system reform, and detest what is happening in Palestine. At the UN this is the Africa Group, the Island Nations and the G77, who keep pushing for common but differentiated action, technology development and transfer, capacity-building and transparency of actions under a legally-binding regime.
On the other pole are the Hamiltonians. These are the people who keep chanting about "family values" because when growing up they were brutalized and now they do the same for their children to teach them that the world is unfair and everyone has to look out for number one. Their DNA compels them towards herd behavior, but rather than seeing the whole world as their herd, they see only those who wear Harvard ties and clawed their way into the one percent. In their minds, they must vigilantly hold their hard-earned privileges against the tide of mud people that threaten to sully their guest room linens. In the US, these people voted for Romney, want to cut off immigration and cancel Obamacare, and support Israel, right or wrong. At the UN, Hamiltonians include the US, Israel, Australia, Belize, Canada, UK, Switzerland, and the Cayman Islands.
China went into the COP intending to join the Hamiltonians but in the end switched sides and joined the Jeffersonians, which created a bit of a stir.
The Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage is a good example of the snares that pop up whenever Jeffersonians and Hamiltonians try to walk a path together, reaching out and holding hands, all Kumbaya,
as it were. "Loss and Damage" is a UN buzzword that symbolizes, for the Jeffersonians, an opportunity to undo the historic climate debt incurred by the rich countries in the process of burning through several hundred million years of fossil sunlight in order to become richer than Croesus.
The Hamiltonians, apart from Scandinavia and Germany, do not even acknowledge climate debt. Such a concept! "Where was the intention?" a US negotiator asked Amy Goodman. It is the US position that dredging up history, harkening back to an era when everyone thought differently about resources and class systems, is futile and that we should just look forward. Given Obama's remarks this past week on the zero possibility of prosecutions for torture, that kind of advice coming from the US has a particularly hollow ring.
Yet, this small philosophical difference has become such a serious stumbling block that it threatens to derail otherwise remarkable progress. As Jamie Henn of 350.org told Democracy Now!:
"One of the most interesting things that’s happening in the text right now is discussions about this long-term goal of where this treaty is really headed. In the past, it’s just been put in, in terms of temperature targets or percentage reductions. Now, for the first time, delegates are really talking seriously about phasing out fossil fuels completely by 2050 and going to zero carbon emissions. That’s the type of target that begins to push this process into the realm of reality and begins to get more people potentially engaged to be seeing this process for what it is, which is really a showdown with the fossil fuel industry."
Henn pushed the shift out more through 350's blog:
This new frame of "ending fossil fuels" is important for a number of reasons:
1) It strengthens the carbon bubble argument: The "carbon bubble" refers to the idea that fossil fuel companies are dramatically overvalued because their financial worth is based on their ability to turn their coal, oil and gas reserves into profit, and 80% of those reserves will need to stay underground if the world aims to keep global warming below 2°C. The fossil fuel industry has argued that the carbon bubble isn't real because governments aren't serious about their commitment to 2°C. Seeing goals like "zero emissions" in the Lima text are clearly making the industry — and their investors — nervous. Just today, a well known Australian columnist wrote in the Business Spectator that many fossil fuel assets could end up stranded. As investors turn away from the fossil fuel industry, it not only opens up the space for political leaders to act, but starts to directly move the economy in the direction we need.
2) It builds the case for fossil fuel divestment: As the reality of the carbon bubble becomes more mainstream, it strengthens the financial case for fossil fuel divestment. Big investors like the Bank of England, for example, are suddenly analyzing their investments for their exposure to this carbon risk. By framing the global climate effort as a battle with the fossil fuel industry, the climate talks also help strengthen the political and moral case for divestment. Earlier this week, a group of Catholic bishops from around the world said that the world must get off fossil fuels by 2050 in order to protect the world's poor from climate change. It doesn't get more moral than that.
|View from the front of the room|
3) It highlights the importance of iconic fossil fuel fights: Fancy words are only as good as the real commitments that back them up, of course. As Bill McKibben wrote in the Guardian this morning, the real test of whether countries like the US and Australia are serious about their commitments is if they're willing to shelve big fossil fuel projects like Keystone XL and the Galilee Basin coal mine. When he visits the climate talks in Lima, Secretary Kerry will be coming under pressure to reject Keystone XL. If the goal is phasing out emissions, it makes no sense to invest in major new fossil projects.
4) It could turn the Paris climate talks into a movement moment: Many people and organizations in the climate movement are skeptical about the importance of the UN climate process. After all, the talks have been going on for decades and have little to show in terms of concrete progress. Lots of groups are still hung over from the blowout in Copenhagen, where much of the movement threw itself into the fight for a "fair, ambitious and binding" treaty only to walk away burned. While the chances of Paris being a transformative policy moment remain low, they could become a transformative political moment if the talks continue be framed as a battle against the fossil fuel industry. If people get the sense that the fate of the fossil fuel industry is being determined in the streets of Paris, they could turn out in force.
That piece, just mentioned, that Bill McKibben wrote for The Guardian said:
Australia’s far right government loves coal — it’s pretty much all they talk about. Its approval of the project can be taken for granted (though polling shows approval of the government itself is another issue, and that Aussies are turning restive at its fanaticism). But building out the ports and railways and giant pits will require huge sums of capital, and so it tests the resolve of the world’s financial system to come to terms with climate.
Any bank that backs this ludicrous plan is announcing, quite plainly, that it cares nothing about climate change. It’s also — probably worse for a bank — announcing that it’s stuck in the 19th century. Serious financial authorities (the governor of the Bank of England most recently) are warning that fossil fuel reserves risk becoming “stranded assets” as the world acts on climate change — investors in the tar sands, for instance, have already taken an enormous hit, and coal stocks have been tumbling for years. A British cabinet minister warned the other day that they were the “subprime assets of the future”, a sobering warning for everyone still recovering from the housing bust of 2008.
|Die-in or sheer exhaustion?|
The final negotiating session Saturday morning was lively, with Singapore contrasting the draft document to circumcision and warning that vetoing it would amount to amputation. New Zealand said the draft had "dead rats we all will have to swallow." The problem most countries had was not the rats they had to swallow but the ones that got away. Noticeably absent from the document were "differentiation" and "loss and damage."
Differentiation is a basic principle of the UNFCCC process, wherein everyone makes some sacrifice, but those with the most sacrifice more than those with the least. Loss and damage assumes that those who are most able should assist those who will suffer most, less because they bear greatest responsibility for causing the damage than because they are better able by virtue of less vulnerability or greater accumulations of world resources, industry and technology. It is logical but trips over those multicentury-old snares we mentioned.
In its floor intervention, Malaysia linked the legacies of colonialism to the deletion of differentiation and loss and damage from the draft text. "Many of you colonized us so we started at a very different point... This is why we have differentiation."
Brazil said that differentiation was not optional but already in the fabric of UNFCCC treaty law, and because of that whether it was actually mentioned in the document was irrelevant.
After the contentious overtime plenary on Saturday morning, the chair suspended the process to allow for one-on-one meetings with each block of stakeholders. This consumed the rest of the day but produced a "consensus document," that was printed and distributed at 5 minutes to midnight at a reconvened plenary. The plenary was then recessed again, for a little over an hour, to allow time for all delegates to read through the revisions and prepare 3-minute interventions.
In response to the dead rat issue raised earlier in the day, the new version was a bit more responsive to the various calls for further action. So, for instance, the preamble affirmed "its determination to strengthen adaptation action," welcomed "the progress made towards Loss and Damage," and inserted after the 2d paragraph:
3. Underscores its commitment to reaching an ambitious agreement in 2015 that reflects the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances;
|1:20 AM in the COP-20 Plenary|
That can be considered a win for the developing world, especially India which has a very ambitious plan to "get to Sweden" with hundreds of additional coal plants, and only thereafter to begin cutting its own emissions. "We got what we wanted," a smiling Prakash Javadekar (India's Minister for Environment, Forest & Climate Change) gushed to Reuters' Alister Doyle.
At 1:20AM today, the COP President reconvened the plenary and having already sounded out the delegations asked if there were objections, and hearing none, declared the "Lima Call For Climate Action" ("Llamamiento de Lima para la Acción sobre el Clima"
) adopted, to standing ovation.
Unsaid and unexamined are some key assumptions by both the Jeffersonians and the Hamiltonians. For instance, both seem to assume that development by economic expansion (debt) and resource consumption is the natural course of human progress, that capitalistic, market-driven stimulus is the best way to accomplish that, and that given enough time and technology even the world's poorest nations will eventually "get to Sweden."
In this sense, the Hamiltonians, with whom we often disagree, seem to have a rare justification for their views, although they would never admit it. They can see as easily as we can that if population growth were extended another century, not only would developing countries like India and China never be able to cope with their ever-rising tide of human demands for more, and unleash unprecedented waves of migrants, but oceans would be drained of all edible fish, forests taken down to make burger meat and its paper wrap, and Mother Nature in her anger would likely extinguish the lot of us long before anyone makes it to Sweden.
Will developed nations have to consume less? Yes. Much less. That may come of its own accord given the Wild West Ponzinomics that rule markets now. All the financial empires that are being made to pay for change are in for a day of reckoning and a severe reversal of fortunes.
Will the developing nations also have to lower aspirations? Yes. How much lower? Well, if they think they are getting to the level of consumerist society they see in Sweden, they had better rethink. Still, with good birth control programs and permaculture design they could get to a steady state balance with the natural world that many in their rural areas are fortunate enough to recall, and that would put them ahead of Sweden in the hard century to come.
Closing takeaways from COP-20: the Chair's final remarks were perilously close to Robert Kennedy's last words, something to the effect of "Now its on to Paris and let's win there." That sent a chill up our spine and we were grateful Mr. Pulgar-Vidal did not exit through the kitchen.
In the Coda — the short comment period after the decision — Mexico made what we thought was one of the better interventions of the two-week ordeal, calling for a re-design of the global economic system, basing it on the reality of climate change and the necessity to disincentivize fossils and incentivize renewables. This was a faint ray of sunlight breaking over the horizon, and we can only hope it leads others to see that systemic change — rearranging economics at its core — is our only real hope.
What was accomplished was much less than a "win" but when you take away the emotional loading from the South and the NGOs, there was progress. 1.5°C is the new 2°C. A mitigation goal of Zero by 2050 (ie: bringing temperature down by ending fossil energy), monitored and adjusted by scientific instrumentation, is now in the sausage hopper with provisions to automatically move the date up if demanded by realities. The full summary and text of Lima is now up on the UN site.
The South's hard-won concessions from the North — adaptation and shared finance (ie.: throwing life preservers to hurricane victims), loss and damage, and development-dependent-delay (differentiation) are all predicated on having booming Western Ponzi economies for the next 30 years. That's like buying beachfront property. It doesn’t matter if it is on the beach in Sweden, it is still on the beach and the beach is vanishing.
When you hit a slots jackpot or have a blackjack run in Vegas they comp you with a room. Then the vultures swoop in, ply you with free drinks, and make sure none of that money leaves the casino. So it was that while innocently standing at the Pentagonito urinals, India was sold 10 nuclear power plants by Russia, just like the ones Russia is building for Bolivia, erstwhile champion of Pachamama and rights of Mother Earth. The cost of a single one of those is likely to be greater than the sum of all the Green Climate Fund pledges to date. India may feel like it will be investing its Green Climate money in carbon-neutral carbon-steel reactors, but it just had its pocket picked and Russia is laughing all the way to the bank.